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'This is unacceptable' - Southland woman gives birth roadside after local maternity centre downgraded

A Southland mother is calling for better rural maternity services after she gave birth roadside near Lumsden, just months after the town's maternity centre was downgraded to a "hub" by the Southern District Health Board.

Some birthing units were turned into maternal hubs, which provide pre- and post-natal care but are not considered places to give birth except in an emergency.

Health Board Executive Director Lisa Gestro told 1 NEWS that "some aspects of the transition have been challenging".

But she also said that with five maternal and child hubs, eight birthing units and two secondary hospitals in the district, there are overall more resources in place now than previously.

"New and expectant mothers in the Southern District should continue to have confidence in maternity services," Ms Gestro says.

The decision was made to downgrade Lumsden Maternity Centre in August last year, despite critics challenging the closure or downgrade in several protests.

Since then, mothers and midwives in the region have been calling for maternity services to be reinstated in rural centres. Lumsden is over an hour drive from Southland Hospital in Invercargill, and almost two hours away for those in Te Anau who also previously utilised the Lumsden centre.

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For more on this story, watch 1 NEWS at 6pm. Source: 1 NEWS

A decision on whether to investigate the changes will be made next week.

The Health Board is facing allegations it skewed facts to push through a revamp of Lumsden maternity services.

On Saturday night, fears of expectant mothers throughout the region became a reality as one mum delivered a baby in an ambulance on the side of the road because she couldn't get to Invercargill in time.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, who has been campaigning alongside mothers and midwives against the downgrade, says, "It’s a huge relief a baby born on the side of the road just outside of Lumsden is healthy with both baby and mother doing well, but this wouldn’t have happened if the Government hadn’t cut maternity services in the town."

He says the National Party has repeatedly said downgrading services in Lumsden would result in a child being born on the side of the road while travelling to Invercargill.

"We don’t like to be proven right in these circumstances. Luckily the outcome is positive for both baby and mum, but the next time this happens it might not be the case.

"Only three weeks ago I wrote to the Minister advising him the maternity hubs the Government had promised were not up and running, but he refused to listen.

"The Government needs to urgently get the equipment the DHB said it would supply, and listen to the community and reinstate full maternity services in Lumsden.

He and the community had raised the issue with the Government "time and time again", Mr Walker says.

"The Minister has repeatedly said this is an operational matter, but where the health of mothers and babies are concerned, he needs to act.

"It’s clear today the Government’s decision to cut services at Lumsden has put Clutha-Southland mothers and babies at risk. This is unacceptable, especially as it is completely avoidable if the centre could simple retain its full services."

Health Minister David Clark said last year he asked the Ministry to review the Southern District Health Board’s plans.

"I received an assurance those plans were sound," he said.

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The Lumsden Maternity centre was downgraded to a hub last year, meaning the mum had to try make it over an hour away to Invercargill to give birth. Source: 1 NEWS